Chick flic leaves viewer feeling manipulated

By Gary Clift

The ushers tell me that two evening showings of “Magic Mike” sold out at the local twelve-plex on the first day of the movie’s release. They also say there was only one man in those two large movie audiences.

So Steven Soderbergh’s new film about male strippers is a chick flic. Hundreds of young women rushed right out to see what? The giggling buns of forty-something Matthew McConaughey? The robot dancing of Tatum Channing (or Channing Tatum)? The pumping g-string pouch of cable TV’s Matthew Bomer?

If they came expecting to see a sexy strip show, they must have been disappointed. There isn’t much dancing in this movie, set in contemporary Tampa, Florida. The different stage scenes are more opportunities to demonstrate the tear-away features of Velcro than they are chances to move and incite with motion.

Lighting tricks? None. Spectacular athletic movements? None. Imaginative prop or set use? Well, you get the idea. The movie isn’t intended to demonstrate what can be done well at a strip show. And if the stage performances generated excitement in the women in attendance at the film, that’s good. But that wasn’t what the movie spent most of its time trying to do.

Instead it was a Tyler Perry-style moral piece. Tatum (or Channing) plays Mike, a featured stripper at the little club run by the ambitious Dallas (McConaughey). Mike actually wants to build custom furniture, if one can call grouping chrome industrial objects under a glass tabletop “building.”

He wants to get a bank loan to start the furniture business in earnest. But he has never developed any credit as he has apparently always worked in cash-only jobs. Over the last six years he has accumulated $13,000 as his down payment. But still he is stripping nights and roofing days.

While roofing he meets a classic slacker who he dubs “The Kid” (Alex Pettyfer). The Kid has no money and no desire to work and is sleeping on the couch in the apartment of his relatively attractive sister, a nurses’ assistant. Mike and circumstances allow The Kid to get into the on-stage line-up of “Xquisite: Male Dance Revue,” and he makes some money and some friends, though Sis disapproves.

Some of the friends are no damn good. Ken (Bomer) invites The Kid to massage his own wife’s nude breasts at a party, and then the scene is quickly blacked out. For reasons never made clear, The Kid takes $10,000 worth of the drug Ecstasy to a private party at which he and Mike perform.. He gives one teenaged girl a hit. This causes a fight between the male guests and the strippers. The latter run out leaving all those pills behind. The drug dealers who have loaned The Kid their product want to be paid for the missing pills.

Meanwhile Dallas has reserved a place in Miami Beach, where he intends to take his dancers in order to make bigger money. My oh my. What will Mike, who has promised Sis that he will take care of The Kid, do now? Here’s the Tyler Perry moment. Will Mike follow our inclinations for him and renounce his life of sex and drugs and roofing? What do you think?

The ending to the movie is almost as unsatisfactory as was the one for “American Gigolo,” a 1980 movie the style of which “Magic Mike” sometimes apes. Audiences leaving either film are encouraged to feel that goodness has triumphed, finally. But actually they may leave feeling, as I did, a little worse off for having had the manipulative experience of seeing the movie.

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